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Strict Liability in Cruise Ship Cases >  Back: LA Cruise Lawyers > Sexual Assault >

Cruise Ship Strict Liability Law


Dangerous hatch and ladder incidents cause injuries on cruise ships - strict liability?
Hatch and ladder on a seagoing vessel.

When a cruise ship employee or the ship itself causes harm to you as a guest, what do you do? How do you get paid? What theory of law do you use to sue a foreign flagged ship?

After all, the same types of injuries that take place on land can happen on a cruise liner or organized shore excursion.


Circumstances beyond one’s control could result in an:

Also, many passengers find themselves facing lacerations. For example, a heavy hatch slamming your fingers or head could cause numerous ailments or missing digits.

In fact, a severe brain injury, coma or tragic loss of life is not uncommon on a cruise. But these are not the only types of things that happen.

A Cruise Ship Is a Floating City?

A cruise ship is like a city on the water. It has thousands of people aboard and little real security. Passengers are laced with drinks. Many send their kids to child care, or by themselves.

  • Did You Know that Your Child Could Be At Risk for Rape on a Cruise?

In some instances, rape by a cruise liner employee or control agent occurs. But crimes such like this can also occur due to drunken passengers or predatory ship workers.

  • What is an MOB?

Sadly, a cruise could lead your or your wife to a man overboard, or MOB. Often these criminals will throw rape victims over the side to destroy the evidence. Some of these crimes can be stealing, or even robbery and theft of expensive heirlooms, and personal items.

  • Loose Kids are Targets for Predators?

More alarming, no one knows who is in charge of free children. In fact, a drunken female in a bikini is a prime target for an unsavory person on a cruise. Just think how vulnerable a child would be.


Did You Know the USAG Says Three Out of Four Reported Crimes are Cruise Ship Rapes Against Girls Under 21?

The United States Attorney General reported that three out of every four crimes on cruise vessels reported to Miami law enforcement are sexual crimes that mostly affect women 21 years of age and under.

But sometimes there can be facts like little boys being forced to give sex to a cruise ship employee, under threat of physical harm or even being thrown overboard, for example.


Is Strict Liability Available in Cruise Ship Injury Cases Because They Have a Special Duty?

So here is the pressing question. If the cruise vessel is a common carrier for hire, are they not subject to Strict Liability with a special duty? The answer is that cruise vessels hired that also depart from U.S. waters are known as common carriers according to Section 3(6) of the Shipping Act of 1984. 46 U.S.C. Sec.1702(6).

So it is commonly accepted that a common carrier is under a “special duty” beyond reasonable care to its vessel passengers.

  • What is the Definition of a Special Duty?

This special duty means that a cruise ship must see to it that the cruise vessel vacationers get to the port of safety safely. So cruise liners must exercise the highest degree of care.

They must protect passenger carried for hire against physical injuries and other types of harm. (See New Jersey Steamboat Co. v. Brockett (1887) 121 U.S. 637, 645-646; See also Restatement (Second) of Torts Sec. 314A (1965).)

The special relationship between a common carrier of passengers and its hire comes from the fact that passengers entrust themselves to the cruise ship company’s protection and care. (See e.g., Holland America Cruises, Inc. v. Underwood (Fla.Dist.Ct.App. 1985) 470 So.2d 19, 20. (the Court found that common carriers have a strict duty to protect passengers from crimes on ships for hire).).

Cruise Ship Are Under Duty To Avoid Employee Rapes?

A cruise ship corporation has a duty of safe transport. This includes, among other things, protection of ship passengers from attacks by crew members such as gang rapes.

But also included are child rapes, sexual molestation, battery on shore, and other harms of a physical nature. (See also M.J. Norris, The Law of Maritime Personal Injuries, Sec. 3:3, at 62-63; Sec.3:12, at 78 (4th ed. 1990).). The U.S. Supreme Court decided in New Jersey Steamboat that an injured passenger violently removed from a restricted area of a vessel by a ship employee could sue.

The Court let it be known that since there was a contract for safe transportation, a passenger was entitled to be protected from a common carrier’s servants’ improper conduct and negligence.

Cruise Ship Strict Liability Originates From Railroad Cases.

The Court reasoned that a servants’ improper conduct must be imputed to the master or the carrier. This is because the servants aboard the ship are hired to perform the contract. So they must transport the passengers safely.

This reasoning comes from public policy and other case precedents outlined in railroad cases. The high Court held that common carriers are under a duty to “absolutely protect” their cruise ship passengers from their servant’s misconduct. But this is only so long as the act is committed in the course of the servant’s employment. The Supreme Court reaffirmed this in Brockett in New Orleans & R.R. Co. v. Jopes (1891)142 U.S. 18.).

Is there a Cruise Ship Employee Duty Not To Assault Passengers?

Another case, Jopes had to do with the train conductor shooting train passenger. The Court used the reasoning outlined in Brockett and expanded on the original definition of common carrier liability.

Common carriers are bound to ensure that their servants don't unlawfully assault or injure passengers. Jopes expanded Brockett by eliminating the rule that an employee is supposed to act within the scope of his or her employment.

That Court held that the common carrier is strictly liable for any act of its employees against passengers. Just because Jopes had to do with trains and not ships, this is irrelevant, because both are common carriers for hire.

Other examples of common carriers include

In the case of Morton v. De Oliveira, 984 F.2d 289 (9th Cir.), cert. denied sub nom., Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Morton (1993) 510 U.S.907, a passenger asserted she had been raped by a ship’s crew member in her cabin.

But then the California Ninth Circuit reviewed the issue of team members’ sexual and other assaults on cruise ship passengers. The Court used the “reasonable care under the circumstances” test discussed above. In that case, the Court held the ship liable for the rape.

Knowing the exceptions to the rules and civil procedure is hard. When fighting a billion dollar cruise line, even trained lawyers make mistakes.

Most of all, passengers need a true cruise ship accident attorney who knows the Jones Act. This is just one of the many reasons to retain Ehline Law Firm. Contact us now at (213) 596-9642.

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